A USDA plan to close 259 domestic offices, labs and other facilities as part of a $150 million budget-cutting measure will have “no impact whatsoever” on food safety, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
The plan announced Monday will affect the agency’s Washington headquarters and operations in 46 states.
Closings of facilities related to food safety may not happen until after Oct. 1 and will only affect administrative personnel, Vilsack said. County offices that oversee farm programs may close before then, he said.
“We have to get our fiscal house in order,” Vilsack said. “That’s going to involve tough calls.”
He said many of the offices being closed have few employees and are near other offices. It was not clear from the USDA announcement whether employees would be laid off or moved to other offices.
The USDA has a broad array of programs, ranging from emergency aid for farms to grants for rural development and the program commonly known as food stamps.
The closings are in response to about $3 billion in cuts to the USDA’s operating budget since 2010, Vilsack said. Further economy measures will be considered as Congress begins debate this year on the next farm bill, where subsidies to growers of wheat, corn, soybeans and cotton are on the table, said Vilsack, who anticipates at least $23 billion in reductions in farm spending over 10 years.